With so many loose ends emerging from the death of Michael Jackson, TV’s entertainment strips and news mags were preparing Friday for what will likely be weeks — possibly months — of coverage.
“I do expect it to dominate the headlines for quite a while,” said “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider” exec producer Linda Bell Blue. “There are a lot of unanswered questions – who gets custody of the children? What about his will? Who gets the assets of his estate? Where will he be buried?”
Blue was planning to devote the entire half-hours of “ET” and “Insider” to Jackson on Friday, and had also been producing pieces for CBS News (including the Eye’s Thursday night Jackson special).
At rival “Access Hollywood,” exec producer Rob Silverstein was also putting together a Friday episode around Jackson, utilizing clips from a 2006 interview that anchor Billy Bush conducted in Ireland with the King of Pop. According to Silverstein, that’s believed to be Jackson’s final one-on-one interview.
Silverstein, who cut his vacation short when he heard the news, said the recent string of celebrity deaths have been a shock to the system after a relatively quite period of entertainment news.
“We went from Heidi and Spencer and Jon and Kate back to Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson,” he said. “We’re back in the true celebrity world. For all of the wrong reasons, obviously.”
Both “ET” and “Access” were forced on Thursday to produce two different feeds of their shows as news of Jackson’s death came late in the day.
Bell said she would up scrapping an all-Fawcett edition of “ET” when news of Jackson’s cardiac arrest emerged; for the East Coast, the show managed to get a mention and footage of Jackson’s ambulance on the air. By the West Coast feed, “ET” regrouped and led with the Jackson story.
Over on “Access,” with news still murky about Jackson as his East Coast feed went out, Silverstein opted to avoid any Jackson mentions. The West Coast version of the show, though, led with the Jackson news, as his death had been confirmed by that point.
“The only thing worse than no info is wrong info, and we decided to wait until we were sure of what had happened,” he said. “This is not one of those stories you can be wrong on.”
Meanwhile, “ET” managed to secure a scoop of its own: What’s believed to be the final known photo of Jackson, as he was being wheeled on a gurney into the hospital.
The competitive Silverstein blasted “ET” for running with that shot.
“I find it reprehensible,” he said.
Bell defended the photo, however, and argued that it was newsworthy. (Other sites and news programs have since run it as well.)
“It documents what was happening to Michael Jackson,” she said. “It’s not a grotesque photo. It shows people trying to save his life. It’s the biggest story in the world, and shows what was happening at the time.”
Bell said the story reminded her of Anna Nicole Smith’s equally mysterious death, given “the sudden death, questions about drug use, questions about others enabling them,” she said. “She’s certainly not the same magnitude of a star as Michael Jackson, however.”
Elsewhere, the broadcast and cable nets continue to revise their programming plans to include more Jackson specials, news reports and tributes.
BET’s Sunday night “BET Awards” will now take on a different tone, as the kudofest opens with a tribute to Jackson.
It took the death of Jackson, meanwhile, for MTV to do something it hasn’t done in years: Run music videos all day long. The cabler, which came of age during the “Thriller” era, started pre-empting its programming Thursday night with wall-to-wall Michael Jackson music videos, concert performances and other footage, and continued to do so right up until 6 p.m. on Friday.
After that, the net premiered a new hour-long special, “A Celebration of Michael Jackson on MTV.” Then at 7 p.m., it planned to run a repeat of “Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew” that featured all Jackson hits. MTV2 also planned to continue running Jackson-themed programming.
ABC planned another “20/20” tribute on Friday night at 9 p.m., “Michael Jackson: The Man and His Music,” anchored by Elizabeth Vargas. “20/20” also planned more Jackson coverage in its normal 10 p.m. slot.
Over at NBC, the net’s “Dateline NBC” put together a new special, “Michael Jackson: The King of Pop,” to run Friday at 10 p.m., behind a repeat of the two-hour Fawcett doc “Farrah’s Story.” CBS planned no Jackson special on Friday.
Fox plans to pay tribute by airing its first-ever “American Idol” repeat on Monday, June 29. That episode, which aired earlier this year, featured the competish’s 13 finalists as they performed songs from Jackson’s catalog.
MyNetwork TV has scheduled a rebroadcast of the World Music Awards, featuring a tribute to Jackson, for Wednesday.
Other just-announced specials include CNN’s “Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror,” which will run several times over the weekend, starting on Saturday at 8 p.m.
TV Land plans to run the 1992 miniseries “The Jacksons: An American Dream” on Sunday at 2 p.m.
And E! Entertainment TV has lined up the news special “Michael & Farrah: Lost Icons” on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., and the special “Michael Jackson” on Wednesday at 10 p.m. It will also run the singer’s “True Hollywood Story” edition throughout the weekend.
The sheer volume of programming dedicated to Jackson is likely to boost overall TV viewing levels for the weekend. On Thursday, ABC had the largest aud of the Big Three nets for its 10 p.m. Fawcett special, which averaged 8.2 million viewers. CBS’ 10 p.m. Jackson spesh brought in 7.5 million viewers. NBC’s 9-11 p.m. “Dateline” seg devoted to Fawcett and Jackson averaged 5.6 million.
On cable, CNN was once again the all-news net of choice for this unexpected breaking story. From 8-11 p.m., CNN averaged 3.9 million viewers to Fox News Channel’s 2.9 million and MSNBC’s 1.5 million. CNN also had a comfortable lead over the competish in all key demos.
Also at Fox, net dug up the 1990 music video “Do the Bartman,” which was co-written, produced and voiced by Jackson. The video will air at the start of this Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons.” Song was featured on the album “The Simpsons Sing the Blues.”
Jackson supplied his voice to the 1991 “Simpsons” episode “Stark Raving Dad,” in which he played a man in an asylum who thought he was Michael Jackson. Fox is believed to be looking into whether it can re-air that episode — but given the age of the seg, which long ago entered the show’s syndication package, it’s unclear whether that will happen.